In most cases, parties will decide to pursue a dissolution of marriage rather than a legal separation. The legal separation process is often misunderstood, and many people think that it can be characterized as “taking a legal break” from the marriage. As part of that misconception, a party may want to seek a legal separation so that they can officially take a break and figure out whether the marriage can be repaired, or if it is irretrievably broken and needs to be dissolved. But, from a legal standpoint, a legal separation is almost the same as obtaining a decree dissolving the marriage, with a few important differences. The primary differences are that the parties cannot remarry, and they may also be able to still qualify for certain benefits under insurance coverage, retirement plans, estate planning, or other areas related to monetary benefits that they would otherwise not be entitled to if the marriage was dissolved.
The most important legal point to understand is that, anytime after 182 days has passed from the date the Decree of Legal Separation is entered, either party may file a motion to the court, and serve the other party and provide proof of service to the court, requesting that the Decree of Legal Separation be converted into a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. The court must grant that motion. Accordingly, a party pursing a legal separation must understand that it can easily be converted, by either party, in the future without any new hearing or court appearance, or changes to the parties’ agreement or past court orders concerning their marriage.
Otherwise, legal proceedings for a legal separation occur in the same manner as proceedings for dissolution of marriage. The parties will have their assets and debts allocated in an equitable manner between them and they will need to address spousal maintenance (alimony). If there are children, parental responsibility issues concerning those children will be addressed by the parties by agreement or by the court, and those issues include decision-making, parenting time, and child support.
The Dissolution of Marriage Act refers to legal separation throughout the act alongside dissolution of marriage provisions. The statute with information concerning conversion of a Decree of Legal Separation to a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is C.R.S. 14-10-120(2).